Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero (4 Stars)

By Josh Bell for Las Vegas Weekly on April 19, 2007

The guerrilla marketing campaign for Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero has been so extensive, mysterious and all-encompassing that the album arriving in stores this week seems almost like an afterthought. The network of websites and flash drives left in bathrooms at concerts (yes, really) that dropped hints about the concept album's totalitarian future world was complicated and creepy, but if you listen to the music itself without any knowledge of the storyline (already rumored to be in development for a film), you won't necessarily notice anything other than a very good new Nine Inch Nails album.

Gone for the most part are the live drums of 2005's With Teeth, as is its concise, direct and poppy approach. Instead, Year Zero is nearly as sprawling as NIN mastermind Trent Reznor's 1994 megahit The Downward Spiral or its double-disc 1999 follow-up, The Fragile. And if the songs alone don't actually tell the story that all of the supplementary material has built up, they do sound like a damn good soundtrack for it. On "Capital G," Reznor affects the thick tone of a simpleton to sing from the perspective of someone who's given up on individuality and embraced mindless conformity. Elsewhere, the electronic elements of his music are more pronounced than they've been since Spiral, perfectly evoking the cold, not-so-distant future; at the end of "The Great Destroyer," it sounds like Reznor just set the synth on "freakout" and walked away.

But a freakout is exactly what's called for here, and even though there are definite hooks to be found on "Survivalism" and "The Good Soldier" and "Meet Your Master," they are all in service of Reznor's anger, directed for once more outward than inward, at our current political climate as filtered through the album's sci-fi future. Musically, this is as good as anything Reznor's done since Spiral; as a unified project, it feels like he's finally found something worth shouting about again. –

Transcribed by UninTY

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